The tree that stood in the ocean is down.
Tiffany Briley used to wake up at 4 a.m. to get to the boneyard beach at Botany Bay Plantation so she could photograph the iconic tree at sunrise in the surf. She cried in relief when she saw it was still standing after Hurricane Matthew.
After Tropical Storm Irma, she saw from a helicopter the tree had been knocked into the sea. Briley, a volunteer at the Botany Bay wildlife management area on Edisto Island, felt it in the pit of her stomach.
"What really jarred me, the hammock island (on the causeway to the beach) was littered with thick debris. Trees were down all over the causeway," she said.
Botany Bay is one of a number of popular publicly owned outdoor recreation and hunting spots on the southern coast that were shredded or submerged by Irma earlier this month. Work is ongoing to clear them.
The storm wracked some of the areas just weeks after they re-opened following millions of dollars of repairs from the damage of Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
Here are the situations for some popular sites:
- Hunting Island State Park — closed for the year.
- Edisto Beach State Park — open are the day-use and beach access area, cabin area, Live Oak Landing boat ramp and Environmental Learning Center. Oceanfront and forest camping sites closed for the year.
- Botany Bay Plantation Wildlife Management Area on Edisto Island — grounds and barrier island beach opened. Damage is heavy. The beach is only accessible from mid-tide to mid-tide surrounding low tide. Check before going, closed most weekdays for hunting.
- Donnelley and Bear Island wildlife management areas, ACE Basin near Green Pond — closed except for limited hunting; opening incrementally as roads drain and are cleared. Check www.dnr.sc.gov for daily updates.
- Francis Marion National Forest — opening incrementally as areas are cleared. Call the hotline for updates, 803-561-4025
The Irma damage was done just as the summer's scorch and tourist traffic began to ease — a prime time for local visitors and just as the fall hunting season opened. The parks' repairs aren't expected to take too long or be that costly.
"A lot less damage has been done dollar-wise (than after Matthew). Water is the biggest with this one, so it's more a matter of letting it dry out than costs," said Duane Parrish, S.C. Parks, Recreation and Tourism director. After Matthew, the S.C. Legislature appropriated $2 million to PRT for repairs, he said.
Revenue from park fees won't be too badly disrupted by Irma because the high tourism season is over, he said, and other parks brought in about $2 million more than budgeted.
The sites are among the state's most popular outdoor destinations. Botany Bay alone drew more than 65,000 people in 2016 before Matthew shut it down in October. Campsite reservations at Hunting Island and Edisto Beach have to be made months in advance.
Botany Bay and Bear Island, a prime hunting ground, were the worst hit among sites managed by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. It took a week for water to quit streaming across the Bear Island access road, said Dean Harrigal, a DNR regional wildlife coordinator. The flow was deep enough that he rode an air boat down the road.
So much debris piled up on the Botany Bay beach causeway that staffers estimated it to be 2 to 3 feet thick.
Meanwhile, a number of popular sites made it through relatively well. Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge was quickly re-opened, as well as nearby Buck Hall Campground.
For Briley, the Botany Bay damage is a professional as well as personal loss, and not just for her. She is part-owner of Charleston Photography Tours, and she said visitors from across the country have visited to shoot the boneyard beach and its tree.
"Seeing it laying down was really painful," she said. "But nature changes. You just appreciate it while you can."